Degree(s) you received at Georgia State:
BA, Religious Studies, 2009
MA, Religious Studies, 2012
Publishing and External Relations, American Academy of Religion
What do you do on an average day?:
I wear a lot of different hats at the AAR, as does the whole staff. I’m the managing editor of Religious Studies News, which is the AAR’s online newspaper of record for the field. In that role, I develop editorial models and enforce deadlines, brainstorm article ideas and issue themes based on major academic or administrative issues in the field, and highlight major AAR initiatives. I also communicate with contributing editors and authors, format and edit copy, and put all the content online. It’s an exciting time for RSN, because I’ve been working toward implementing some major changes to its content model, format, and delivery. Practically, that means rousing support on the AAR’s executive board and the various committees, walking contributors through editorial changes, considering advertising, and building a new web presence. I’ve learned a lot about website building and code since joining the AAR. Outside of the annual conference, the AAR’s web presence is the most important “face” of the organization.
I’m also the staff liaison for our book award juries and religion and the arts award jury, and I provide them with any administrative support they need. It’s been especially cool working with the religion and the arts award jury because that was broadly my area of focus in grad school. Prior to coming to the AAR, I was just reading scholars like Diane Apsotolos-Cappadona and Brent Plate. Now I get to work with them.
Some of my other day-to-day activities include working on the AAR’s membership team to develop and execute programs that will maintain and grow our member base, sending out e-mail blasts about regional AAR events, tracking and disseminating information about grants, fellowships, and conferences, and reviewing contracts with Oxford University Press, the publisher of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and with whom we have five book series.
Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree?
I was like a lot of BA undergraduates in their senior year: about to graduate but without a clear idea of what lay beyond my summer internship. It was the height of the recession, the job market was horrifyingly small, and I was desperate for a sense of direction. The religious studies program at GSU had become my intellectual home, and I was going to miss everyone. I had also developed into a strong and engaged student. A professor suggested that I apply to the MA program and just see what unfolded. I decided on returning the following fall to start graduate school.
How do you use your graduate degree in your current job?
The relationship between my graduate degree and my job is partly self-evident. I was a student member of the AAR while in graduate school and being involved at that level made me much more aware of the of the tensions in the field—both in scholarly conversations and at the departmental level. I came in to the AAR with an especially strong sense of what student members faced, the issues they were excited or anxious about, and what areas of the field were in and out of vogue. In that respect, I have a strong point of view in discussions of program development at the AAR. Part of my degree program involved teaching introductory courses. I was never more anxiety-ridden than during those semesters. All of a sudden you’re thrown into a world that half of the time asks you to be a student and the other half asks you to manage a classroom and course material in an authoritative way. Stress management was something I learned in grad school– that, and the virtue of moderation. I also think that the thesis-writing process is instrumental in my success at work. In many ways, the thesis is a first stab at project management: Ideas get pitched, rejected, revised (as in the prospectus); get worked, fleshed-out, tossed, reconceived, and put to paper (the months of writing); executed and put to the public’s eye (the defense). Through developing and writing my thesis I learned how to make myself heard, how to fail, when to trust myself, and how to follow through. All while trying to graduate on a schedule.
Would you recommend your degree program? Why?
Yes. The field of religious studies is exciting because it’s extremely expansive—probably more so than any other discipline in the humanities. My coursework brought me into contact with political scientists, classicists, historians, philosophers and theologians, anthropologists, critical theorists, psychoanalysts, archaeologists, novelists, art historians, and of course, religious practitioners. You get to roughly map intellectual history and place yourself in it. The feeling of accumulating, synthesizing, and evaluating knowledge is incredibly exhilarating.
What makes that process even more powerful is that you’re sharing it with peers, professors, and mentors. You get to know people in a different way when you study with them. A scholarly intimacy develops, and friendships are built on an intellectual foundation.
I also want to recommend that prospective students look at the graduate degree as part of a larger holistic approach to life- and career-building. You shouldn’t allow graduate work to narrow the scope of your potential life goals. What attracted me to studying religion as an undergraduate and graduate student was the amount of possibility it revealed in human thought processes and behavior, in ways both fantastic and pragmatic. I learned over time that it was important to be open to a range of possibilities in my own life as well.
What’s the strangest or quirkiest thing you learned in the course of your graduate study?
The saga of the Sherbert Test (Sherbert v. Verner) as a completely ramshackle approach to defining religious freedom in the US Supreme Court and Congress. It’s like an expensive lamp that we keep dropping and trying to glue back together again.